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Sun cries wolf over Windows XP

The biter bit?

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Unless you’re American you may have missed the fact that Sun has been placing newspaper advertisements asking that Windows users put pressure on Microsoft to re-introduce a Java Virtual Machine (JVM) into Windows.

This seems unlikely to be successful as independent sources estimate that no more than 5 per cent of Windows users actually make use of Java applets. Be that as it may, Microsoft has hit back with a statement saying, in effect, that it might well have kept its JVM in Windows XP, except that for a lack of trust in Sun.

It fears that Sun will apply for an injunction to prevent Microsoft from releasing Windows XP on the basis of some technical (and probably spurious) infringement of its Java licensing agreement. And, of course, Microsoft felt confident that if such a legal proceeding was to be initiated then it would inevitably be started at the most inconvenient moment – in other words, in early October, just before the product is due to be released.

Sun can hardly complain (although it is doing so). Whatever the merits of the case Sun is in a classic boy who cried wolf scenario. It is trying to recoup.

It is building a JVM specifically for Windows XP or, more specifically, Internet Explorer 6 (Windows XP theoretically supports the latest JVM version 1.3.1 but Internet Explorer 6 is limited by its agreement with Sun to JVM version 1.1.4).

Unfortunately, it will be too late for Sun: it will not be able to deliver its code in time for the launch of Windows XP. While it will ultimately be available as a download, most of the leading PC vendors have already decided either to ship their PCs with no JVM at all, or with a JVM from some other vendor (including, in some cases, Microsoft’s own obsolete JVM). It will be much more difficult for Sun to change hearts and minds once vendors such as Compaq, Dell and Gateway mak their decisions as to what they will deliver.

The biter bit

Sun is, of course, desperate. If Windows XP systems ship without Java (and a significant number won’t) then developers cannot assume that Java will be present on user systems. Moreover, the download for Microsoft’s JVM, for example, is 5MB. Lots of people, particularly those limited to modem-based communications will not want the hassle of having to download such a large file. So developers may choose to use software that they know will be supported on user platforms. And this, potentially, is C#. If this is the case then Java stands to lose mind-share, to the benefit of Microsoft and the detriment of Sun.

While lots of companies, including IBM, are putting pressure on Microsoft to change its stance over a JVM, you can see Redmond's point. Sun does appear to have a co-ordinated anti-Microsoft policy. It has proved that it can and will resort to litigation. Who can blame Microsoft for taking this at face value?

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